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Scuba Diving in Safaga, the Red Sea
Dive Site: Al Kahfain
Location: Sha'ab Sheer, Safaga
Description: Ferry wreck
Depth: 23m to sea bed (75 feet), 6m to top of the wreck (20 feet)
Visibility: 20 metres (65 feet)
The Al Kahfain was a ferry that was sailing past Safaga with just the crew (no passengers) on board when a fire broke out that they couldn't extinguish. The crew abandoned ship, leaving it to drift in open sea. It made its way unmanned through the shipping lanes and it was only when it began to drift towards Port Safaga that anyone did anything about it. It was purposefully left to run aground on Sha'ab Sheer which it did in November 2005.
To say the wreck is still moving is an understatement. The ferry lies intact nearly upside down on the seabed, with its bow jammed into the reef. There is a crack running down the hull from keel to deck about a third of the way along the wreck from the stern. Each side of the crack was moving quite independently of the other in the swell, leaving a gap of about a foot at the peak of the swell. One of the lifeboat davits that was 'resting' on the seabed (I use the term loosely!) was rising up by about half a metre off the floor with each wave break. You could hear all the metal creaking as it moved. At the bow the name was clearly visible and all the paintwork was still quite fresh. A good dive site and a memorable experience!
With that amount of movement I should think it won't take long until the wreck begins to disintegrate and perhaps even sections of it will drop downslope. Hopefully in a few years someone will update us as to how it's looking.
view more Al Kahfain photos
The Al Kahfain is one of the newer wreck dives in the Red Sea, sinking on November 3rd 2005. Originally built in the British shipyard, Cammell Laird Shipbuilders Ltd, the ship was launched under the name Ulster Queen in 1967 and was a roll-on, roll-off ferry for vehicles and passengers, very similar in appearance to the Salem Express (a wreck which lies just 10 minutes by boat to the south). During subsequent years the vessel's name was changed several times in quick succession, in 1986 to the Al Kahera, in 1987 to the Ala Eddin , in 1988 to the Poseidonia and finally in 2005 to the Al Kahfain. At 115m long, with a 17m beam and 4m draft she was a sizeable vessel, slightly longer and fractionally thinner than the Salem Express. Another notable difference between the Al Kahfain and the Salem Express is that the Al Kahfain had no lifting mechanism or entry / exit for vehicles in her bow section. Vehicle entry for up to 150 cars and 275 passengers was made through the lowering of a ramp in her stern.
In 2005 the Al Kahfain was operating as a passenger ferry, based in the port of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and on November 2nd 2005 was reportedly returning from Suez to the port of Jeddah to collect passengers. With a crew of 58 and no passengers aboard it is believed that an explosion in the engine room occurred near the reef of Abu Nuh‚s on the northern end of Shadwan Island, causing a fire to break out which the crew were unable to bring under control. Still heading south the crew abandoned ship leaving the vessel adrift. On November 3rd the Al Kahfain struck the north east part of a reef chain known as Hyndman Reef (known locally as Sha'ab Sheer), near Port Safaga where she subsequently capsized and sunk upside down against the reef wall in 24m of water.
When she first sank, the Al Kahfain was resting precariously upside down, about 8 metres from the reef wall and her funnel was pushing against the seafloor and appeared to be taking most of the weight of the ship. There was a great deal of speculation as to whether she would fall towards deeper water, should a storm or large swell cause her to tip away from the reef. Over the past 10 months (at time of writing) she has been reported in different locations and as having broken in two with her stern section fallen into water too deep to dive. None of these reports are true and in fact the Al Kahfain has tipped against the reef and her funnel has dug well into the sandy slope, where she is now fairly firmly lodged.
Diving the Al Kahfain is quite an experience. Such a new wreck, which is far from settled, means much of her is still moving with the flow of water, particularly at the bow section. Here part of her superstructure and decking have been crushed and peeled away, so huge sections of metal creak and groan. Davits and other sections of wreckage rasp and scrape, metal on metal, creating a strange underwater symphony of sorrowful reverberation. There is often a medium strength current which tends to flow north east along the reef (bow to stern). At the time a writing a blue buoy marks the stern and tends to be the start of the dive. If the current is running it makes things easier to tuck in near to the sea floor at 24m and close to the wreck where shelter from the current makes progress towards to bow less of an effort. At this level you can clearly look underneath the upturned wreck and see the super structure.
The railings and davits still have a clean white appearance, their coats of paint as yet to be tarnished by the effects of long term immersion in salt water. The davit winches are still painted a bright orange and serial numbers are still visible. Halfway along the ship there is a huge tear in the structure where the ship has almost been ripped in two and as you approach the bow, the large starboard anchor lies on the sea floor, no longer attached to the ship. The port anchor is still in place in its housing on the upturned port bow and here the name of the "Al Kahfain" is clearly visible in large blue lettering. Returning towards the stern at a shallower level one can look into the rows of square portholes, and its possible to enter these with a single cylinder and a bit of contorting to explore the ships interior. Finishing the dive on the upturned hull at the propellers, which lie in less than 8m of water means you can make safety stops whilst still on the wreck and the twin propellers and rudder make for some great photographs silhouetted against the sunlight streaming in from above.
Rik Vercoe, BSAC Advanced Instructor
Dived this wreck last week for the first time and it's still in one piece and quite a good dive, not much sign of it sliding down the reef yet. All the life jackets fully inflated in one of the holds is quite a sight.
Charlie Powell, PADI & IANTD Instructor | 04/10/2009